Milford horseshoe club is a ringer

MILFORD – Roman soldiers made a game of tossing metal rings over stakes pounded into the ground, and so did American Revolutionary War soldiers, but they used mule shoes, causing the Duke of Wellington to write, “the war was won by the pitchers of horse hardware.”

But civilians probably didn’t play the game until after the Civil War, when soldiers took it home with them and horseshoe courts sprang up across the U.S.

The first club was founded in Pennsylvania in 1899, and the local tradition continues here each Monday evening at Riley Brothers Lumber.

Dale Riley said the Milford Horseshoe Club has been around for 30 or 40 years, starting in Bedford and then moving behind Milford’s old police station and eventually winding up here on Christmas Tree Lane. Riley has been with it every step, or should we say every toss, of the way.

About 20 people gathered at the lumber yard on a crisp August evening, including four men who were there for the first time.

It’s very informal. Anyone can just show up to play, and if they’re hungry Riley’s grandson Noah is there grilling hot dogs. Each September they hold a banquet and through the colder months the games move inside Riley’s barn.

At the Aug. 18 game there was Old Milwaukee beer on ice so everyone could toast longtime player Jim Fowler, who died recently.

Pat Harwood is usually the only woman, and Riley says she’s one of the top female players in New Hampshire, recently coming in second in a tournament in Nashua. In July she scored ninth in her division at a world tournament in Buffalo.

Harwood modestly explains that there was no qualifying event for Buffalo and “anyone can go,” but she had a great time.

Riley and Forrest Rollins are the oldest players, both in their 70s. Rollins hasn’t been playing lately because of back trouble, but he likes to watch and especially enjoys the camaraderie.

“It’s not about winning,” he said, “It’s about the wonderful people you meet.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@